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Web of doubt surrounds India spider attack

By Molly Gray, for CNN
updated 5:44 PM EDT, Mon June 4, 2012
Spiders similar to this tarantula have been spotted in large numbers in the Indian town of Sadiya.
Spiders similar to this tarantula have been spotted in large numbers in the Indian town of Sadiya.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Indian newspaper reports a spider attack on remote town
  • Two people killed and scores bitten by tarantula-like spiders
  • Expert questions whether deaths caused by spider bites
  • Spiders collected from town are undergoing tests

(CNN) -- A swarm of poisonous spiders has wreaked havoc in a remote town in northeast India, scaring its inhabitants and possibly killing two people.

According to a report Sunday in The Times of India, a large number of spiders descended on the town of Sadiya in Assam as a local festival came to end on May 8 and sparked panic as residents tried to avoid the swarm.

The report said that scores of people later visited the town's hospital with spider bites and a middle-aged man and a teenage boy died after being bitten by the spiders.

The incident alarmed local officials who told residents to stay indoors and considered spraying the town with insecticide, the report said.

Jintu Gogoi told The Times he felt excruciating pain and nausea after being bitten by one of the spiders and his finger was black and swollen.

However, the attack has puzzled spider experts.

Last month, LR Saikia and a team of researchers from Dibrugarh University visited the town to investigate what had happened.

Saikia told CNN that he believed the man may have died from a snake bite, while the boy may not have suffered any bite at all.

"The evidence that we gathered does not support the claim that they died after being bitten by spiders," Saikia said.

Saikia added that the man's relatives appeared to have taken him to traditional spiritual healers instead of qualified doctors when symptoms appeared.

He confirmed that about 12 people have visited hospitals in the area recently, complaining of spider bites.

"Only two of them were confirmed bitten by spiders. But they were ordinary spiders," Saikia said.

Investigators drew their conclusions from questioning relatives of the two dead people about the type of bite marks and symptoms, Saikia said.

Some 20 spiders resembling tarantulas from the incident were handed over to investigators during their week-long stay.

Tarantulas indigenous to the region are not known to be fatally venomous, but about five of the recovered spiders are currently undergoing tests.

When asked if spiders were likely to have swarmed the town of just under 1,000 people, Saikia said, "This is just a story ... based on rumors."

CNN's Harmeet Singh in Delhi contributed to this report

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